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Ajoka’s new play on “Dara Shikoh”

It is absolutely a significant cultural landmark in Pakistan. Ajoka has decided to stage a play on a personality that has been neglected by India and Pakistan. His views and role in history challenges the myths of Indian and Pakistani nationalism and confronts religious militancy rampant in the two countries. Had Dara – the visionary, sage and believer in humanism – lived, we may have avoided blood, carnage and violence that defines South Asia of today. Those interested to explore the hidden history, removed from textbook propaganda must watch this play. The venue and timings can be found at the end of this post. Now the formal introduction to the play:

Dara – A play on the life and times of Mughal prince Dara Shikoh

Ajoka’s new play “Dara” is about the less-known but extremely dramatic and moving story of Dara Shikoh, eldest son of Emperor Shahjahan, who was imprisoned and executed by his younger brother Aurangzeb. Dara was not only a crown prince but also a poet, a painter and a Sufi. He wanted to build on the vision of Akbar the Great and bring the ruling Muslim elite closer to the local religions. His search for the Truth and shared teachings of all major religions is reflected in his scholarly works such as Sakeena-tul-Aulia, Safina-tul-Aulia and Majma-ul-Bahrain. The play also explores the existential conflict between Dara the crown prince, and Dara the Sufi and the poet. […]

Lahore’s oldest guide

My piece published in the Friday Times

The interior of Data Darbar

The grave of the saint

Outside the shrine,

The shrine at night

Perhaps the greatest of the experiences at Data Darbar is to find oneself connected to a stream of humanity, shoulder to shoulder, with a shared sense of spirituality that cuts across ethnicity, sect, ritual and even religion at times. Despite the mayhem, the serenity of the place is soothing

“To traverse distance is child’s play: henceforth pay visits by means of thought; it is not worth while to visit any person, and there is no virtue in bodily presence”

Last week, accompanying a visitor from the Mecca of Sufis, Delhi, I reconnected with the Data Darbar or the royal pavilion of the great saint of Lahore, Ali bin Usman Al Hajveri. This shrine is the oldest and perhaps the most vibrant cultural marker of the past one millennium in Lahore. The title of Ganj Bakhsh was bestowed by the saint of the saints Khwaja Moin ud din Chishti of Ajmere, whose ascendancy in the Chishtia Sufi order is recognised by all and sundry. Pilgrimage to Ajmere by itself is a matter of spiritual attainment for the majority of Muslims in the subcontinent. It is not difficult to imagine then what the stature of Lahore’s Data Darbar is in this esoteric yet real and lived Islam in South Asia. While Khwaja Moin ud din Chishti honoured the Lahori saint with the title “bestower of treasure,” ordinary folk on Lahore’s streets were more direct by naming the saint as Data, the one who facilitates the fulfilment of aspirations.

Living nearly 11 centuries ago, Syed Ali bin Usman Al Hajveri was not a Lahori but a resident of Lahore’s cultural step-cousin, Ghazni, until he arrived in India and wandered in northern India before settling in Lahore for the last 34 years of his life. This was the time when mystics from Central Asia, in their constant urge to discover new vistas of spiritual exploration, started to travel and settle in different parts of the Indian subcontinent. It remains a mystery as to why Data Ganj Bakhsh would have chosen Lahore as the final stop in his life long journey. Perhaps the secular interpretation could be that Lahore was an inevitable stop over for all the Central Asian and Turkic caravans and armies and provided the right kind of environment for a foreign mystic to amalgamate into. A little before Ganj Bakhsh’s arrival, Lahore had been resurrected from the earlier ravages of time by the Ghaznavid ruler Mahmood and his son Masood.

Lahore’s fame had also spread deep into the rugged, mountainous climes of Central Asia. Its old fortified city, the banks of a gushing river and the motley collection of artisans, masons, artists, poets and musicians were all too well known.

During the 34 years of his Lahore residence, Ali Hajveri became the most revered of dervishes whose inclusive and tolerant mystical path attracted the majority of its non-Muslim population. Let us not forget that the non-Muslim population was also a subject of a pernicious caste hierarchy where access to templar gods and clerical blessings was denied to a good number of the population. This was the beginning of a centuries’ long process of peaceful conversions. Islam’s egalitarianism and its larger message of equality before God was quite a magical idea for many, not to mention that the Sufi path did not require conversion per se. This is why Data Darbar has been a hub of inter-communal quests for spiritual attainment.

Other than that, Ali Hajveri’s important contribution to the corpus of documented mystical thought is the treatise that he authored and left for posterity. Known as Kashf- al- Mahjub, or “Unveiling of the Hidden,” it is a monumental document striking for its communicative tone and systematic way of discussing mysticism.

Through the dynasties that were to follow Mahmood Ghaznavi’s controversial military campaigns, the primacy of Ali Hajveri’s shrine continued. Its centrality to the evolution of Muslim rulers meant that the origins of Islam were paradoxically not rooted in the capture of power. Voluntary conversions at Sufi khanqahs and dergahs were a constant process. The Sultans of Delhi and the Moghuls were all enamoured by the mythical might of the saint, and while the imperial grandeur continued, the ordinary Lahoris had already renamed Lahore as “Data ki Nagri”- Data‘s city. Khawaja Moin ud din Chishti undertook 40 day long meditative exercises at this shrine before he moved to Ajmere to carry on the Sufi mission of spreading love, tolerance and harmony and of re-emphasising the indivisible equality of man. The Moghul prince and heir apparent Dara Shikoh, like his great-grandfather Akbar, was also a true devotee of Data Ganj Bakhsh.

The decline of the Moghul Empire did not impact the energy of the shrine. In fact, the formidable Punjabi leader, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, like his predecessors, invested in the upkeep and expansion of the shrine complex. The rulers dare not afford the wrath or displeasure […]

December 1st, 2008|Personal|1 Comment

Mian Mir’s 384th Urs

Mian Mir’s death anniversary celebrations are commencing today.

Mian Mir is regarded as one of the greatest Sufi saints of the Subcontinent. He belonged to the Qadiria order of the Sufis. He was famous for being a spiritual instructor to Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who also held Mian Mir in great esteem.

Dara Shikoh was a devoted disciple of the saint. His father, Shah Jahan, often requested the saint to pray for his empire.

Mian Mir was the earliest Sufi saint who promoted the Qadiria order in Lahore.

He shunned worldly selfish men and proud high-ups of his time. He used to post his mureeds (disciples) at the gate of his house to stop rich people from entering.

Once Emperor Shah Jahan, with his attendants, came to pay homage to the great dervish. Mian Mir’s disciples stopped the emperor at the gate and requested him to wait, until permission was given. Shah Jahan felt insulted, but controlled his temper and composed himself. […]

March 17th, 2008|India-Pakistan History, Lahore, Sufism|3 Comments